Monday, June 28, 2004

It's Monday night, and we are getting ready to visit Bayeaux to see the famed tapestries there before heading for Salisbury, London, and then home; Rachel and Nick leave in the morning after a last breakfast of croissants and strong French coffee. We've spent the last two weeks in museums -- the D'Orsay Museum, the Picasso Museum, Carnavalet History Museum, and the truly inspirational National Museum of Music.

I still can't believe I went up to the second level of the Eiffel Tower, some 400 feet above the ground. Just two days ago, we were hiking through that monolithic contribution to French royalty, Versailles. Although I admired the chapel and the theater (which borrowed its decor from Pompei!), I'm more saddened by the many deaths brought about by the king's inability to resolve France's economic problems in the 18th Century -- some 20,000 were guillotined during the Revolution -- to say nothing of the effects of mob violence. French history is written on church walls and outlined in stained glass in some of the most beautiful churches -- St. Chapelle and Notre Dame, to name two. At the Orsay we saw Monet's famous paintings of the cathedral at Rouen;apparently, he rented several apartments fronting the church and would race from one apartment to the next, working on several canvases at each apartment, hoping to catch just the right light. Tomorrow we'll climb up those 400 plus stairs at Notre Dame to stare down those famous gargoyles.

For tonight, we'll help Rachel and Nick pack and wish them a safe journey home. And enjoy a glass of wine, a banana crepe, and a good night's sleep. Be well!


Thursday, June 17, 2004

Rachel and Nick safely landed, after a three-hour delay out of Philadelphia due to lightning storms. But aside from a slight amount of culture shock -- everyone speaks French -- all is well. Both Rachel and Nick wanted to start sightseeing right away so we visited Notre Dame together for the first time and admired the flamboyant Gothic style throughout. Although much of the facade in the front had been renovated extensively in the 19th Century, the flavor was still definitely Gothic, complete with gargoyles, spires, dazzling stained glass windows, and lots of tourists.

After a indulgent breakfast of croissants, chocolate croissants, pain aux raisins (a kind of cinnamon roll with custard and raisins but no cinnamon), and cafe auu lait, the real treat came today as we headed off to the French Conservatory of Music to visit their museum of music. With electronic headsets, we began first with a history of instruments -- over 900 on display. As we walked by each display, a lovely mini-lecture and snips of music helped us understand the value and changes and contributions of each type of instrument. Imagine the evolution of the harpsichord to the pianoforte to the piano. The music brought tears to all our eyes it was so evocative of creativity, discipline and talent.

After a brief break to rest our tired feet, both Rachel and Nick had new shoes, we headed back through a stunning exhibit of music from the Middle Ages, integrating art and the role of the musician. We were all dazzled. Integrated with longer clips of medieval music, we looked at medievam sculptures and many illuminated manuscripts that, for example, showed the influence of Plato and Aristotle, and early theories of medieval music. Another example, the school of music at Notre Dame actually was the first to use measures in music. I saw illustrations of the first system of notation, a phonetic system which required great memorization, so much that musicians wrote the symbols for the sounds on different joints of their fingers! Four and a half hours later, we were ready to watch the latest soccer game, happily enconsed at home.

I almost forgive the French aristocracy for the excesses that led to the French revolution (for in that era about 90 percent of the people died of starvation, and the remaining 10 percent died of indigestion), for the court system and the striving to embellish the lavish court life led to patronage of all the arts -- including musicians -- and brings us so much beauty today. Allen also pointed out that French support for the American revolution was pivotal to our democratic system today, coming as it did in French opposition to the British and through the diplomatic efforts of B. Franklin. All in all, we have much to be grateful for from the French -- not the least being French fries.

Enjoy every day of summer. I can't wait to see the 'kids' react to the Louvre, Versailles, a boat ride down the Seine, and a concert of medieval music with authentic instruments. Write when you can. I send you good thoughts.


Sunday, June 13, 2004

Hello. I hope you are enjoying summer where you are. I finally was able to upload some pictures so go check them out. Gordy had left some pictures of Turkey there and it was wonderful to have that little snapshot of friends, a momento of Turkey.

Today we visited Rodin's museum, two floors of his works. Tucked away on the second floor were four little masterpieces by Van Gogh, little seen and totally unexpected. The burgers of Calais and Rodin's door to hell (inspired by the baptistry doors we saw in Florence by Ghiberti AND Dante's Inferno), though here with a more romantic twist -- literally, as the figures are strongly three-dimensional; tzisted, leaping, falling. Imagine a beautiful formal garden around a large Neoclassic mansion. Rodin at first rented a studio here, and as he became more and more established, he just rented more and more of the space. He lived here until he died, surrounded by lime trees, fountains, and lots of space for his sculpture.

We also visited the Museum d'Orsay yesterday. Only three floors and over 100 rooms (nothing compared to the over 400 at the Louvre), yet after four hours, we still found ourselves having only completed just about a third. I have renewed respect for the work of Toulouse Lautrec -- his pastels have amazing color and texture. We dallied also over the work of Delacroix and Manet and Millet. Then Allen said, Just one more room to take a preview of what we'll see on our next visit. We walked into the middle of the next room to find it completely full of Van Gogh, and tears came into my eyes.

We find ourselves mostly eating sandwiches, but we have also discovered crepes. Yes, McDonald's is here in Paris, but we also find creperies in nearly every neighborhood, melt-in-your-mouth crepes with sweet or dinner type fillings. We're starting to feel at home in Paris, though it's still pretty much a pinch me kind of experience.

We have a lovely TV in our apartment but still feel pretty isolated from the news as everyone speaks French here -- even on TV. So we're following the soccer competitions and translating the late night news as best as possible. Only 2 more weeks here, then on to England. Be well and write when you can.


Thursday, June 03, 2004

Zell; we are in France now and with a new computer keyboqrd: They have reversed the A with the Q and the Z with the W, and moved the M way over to the right, changing some other letters as well. So, please overlook q few typos as I get used to this...

We safely arrived in Paris after an 17 hour bus ride from Venice, talk about tired bones. But, we now have an apartment. For those of you who have not been sensory-deprived, our apartment is BIG -- four rooms -- a dining room, a tiny kitchen just big enough for one person, and a living room with TV (only channels in French) and stereo (classical music, jazz, blues, with French commentary), and a bedroom of our very own. We can be in different rooms at the same time. And I'll be cooking for the first time since January;

Whew, getting used to this new keyboard will take some time. It,s touch typing all over again:

Our first day in Paris felt like we were still in Venice -- what an unforgettable experience Venice was. Imagine picturesque old mansions from the turn of the century right next to the canals, and I can report, the canals in Venice are not smelly, though I learned that Lord Byron took a daily swim in the Grand Canal; something I wouldn't recommend. Everywhere we walked was beautiful, sunny skies, lots and lots of tourists; friendly people, and an old culture built on hundreds and hundreds of years of trading in the Mediterranean; Venice was the center of the world for nearly 800 years, even sidetracking the 4th Crusade to attack Constantinople. What a place for intrigue. St Mark's Cathedral was breathtaking for its gold edged mosaics everywhere, some (incredibly expressive) from the 12th Century. There's also a wild story about how 2 Venetian traders swiped St. Mark's body from Constantinople during a violent thunderstorm, to bring it home to Venice. I also have a renewed appreciation for Tintoretto. If you can, go to Mark Hardin's Artchives online to see some of the paintings he painted for the School of San Rocco. He won the competition at first simply by bringing a painting to the school and giving it to them, saying pay me whatever you wish. They loved his work and decided to give him 100 ducats a year for the rest of his life, in exchange for so many paintings. The result is a school filled with monumental paintings that, since they were all painted by the same person; have a certain harmony qnd consistency. His piety, innovation, and simply great art are apparent with every line.

And, now we're in Paris. Today we begin the Louvre -- 432 rooms full of art. I think we will need more than one visit.


PS Check out the link at the right hand corner for more on Tintoretto; I couldn't resist posting one link on this great artist.